Al Zar, longtime Joplin music promoter, dies

Al Zar

Al Zar, a concert promoter whose reputation for reliability enabled him to reach from Joplin to the heights of the country music business, has died.

Zar, 71, succumbed Tuesday at his home in Espanola, New Mexico, after fighting cancer for several years. He had lived in Joplin in the 1980s and 1990s and returned here in 2016 to do three shows. The concerts were held at Memorial Hall, where Zar started promoting shows more than 30 years ago and a place he said he regarded as "home."

He and his wife, Chris, had produced shows since 2002 for the Country Hall of Fame quartet and Grand Ole Opry performers the Oak Ridge Boys.

"We knew from the beginning that our association with Al would be good," said Duane Allen, lead singer of the group in an email issued through the group's corporate office. "In the past 16 years, we have worked more dates for Al and Chris Zar than any other promoter. Al became very close to us as he helped us open up new markets and build them to very successful places to work."

Joe Bonsall, the tenor in the group, said in a statement and social media post that "our friend, our brother, promoter and associate, has gone home. Rest easy Al Zar. We will miss you, man. Thanks for all you have done for us over all these years — prayers for Chris! No more pain, it's all Jesus now."

Jon Mir, operations manager and executive vice president of the group's corporation, said Zar promoted concerts in recent years for stars like Kenny Rogers.

"A lot of people grew to admire and trust Al," he said. "We could always count on him. He had a calm demeanor and he spoke with confidence. His reputation was well earned."

Zar also was respected for his Christian faith. "It was always comforting to us that he was a good Christian man and had a strong belief in God. He liked the gospel music and all of the music the Oak Ridge Boys did."

Zar was a member of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Joplin, where he started a charitable fund for Joplin residents in need. His family has scheduled a memorial service there Feb. 5.

Grammy winners Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, whose tight harmonies brought them acclaim for songs like "All the Gold in California," also performed concerts promoted by Zar.

"On behalf of me and my brothers, may I say we have all lost a great man," said singer and bass player Steve Gatlin in a statement provided to the Globe through the group's publicist, Kay Waggoner Burney of Absolute Publicity in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris and all the family."

Singer T.G. Sheppard, rated as one of the top 100 country performers with 21 No. 1 hits, said in a statement issued through Burney, "There's no one in the music industry that I've ever known that loved what they did more than Al. I know that I speak for many artists in saying that when you did a show for him, you knew it would be first class. I have lost a great friend and the music industry has lost a talented man. My thoughts and prayers are with Chris and the family."

Zar started his work as a promoter in Joplin after coming here in the early 1980s to work for Z103 and WMBH radio stations. He went on to launch his own company, Stonebridge Productions, with his wife. They brought artists such as Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Kenny Rogers to the stage at Memorial Hall. He left his work in Joplin in 1999 when he began promoting shows for the Statler Brothers.

He returned here to do three shows in 2016, including the kickoff performance of a Christmas tour the Oak Ridge Boys did that season.

"After 17 years, it feels good to be back at Memorial Hall," Zar told reporters in announcing the shows. "This is home."

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